Yep, we love the Beach Boardwalk too. But Santa Cruz enjoys other attractions that don’t involve a 65 foot plunge down a wooden coaster. The Westside is a hip and happening little corner of town that thrills with some of the city’s best eats, treats and outdoor scenery for kids. The next time you zip down the coast, ditch the deep-fried Oreos and head west for a memorable family adventure.
Photo credit: Jennifer Carole
Wilder Ranch (1401 Coast Rd) once supplied the town’s mission before becoming a successful dairy farm. Today, the atmospheric grounds are filled with historic ranch buildings, barns, and farm animals like chickens, sheep and horses. Pack a picnic and laze under the shade trees by the stately Victorian home while tots form giant bubbles with stick & string wands. Up for an easy hike? The wide Old Landing Cove Trail skirts seaside cliffs and beach coves patrolled by squadrons of pelicans.
Named for the bridge-like rock formation that juts out into the sea, Natural Bridges State Beach (Swanton Blvd & W Cliff Dr) is a gorgeous sandy expanse with tide pools and nature trails. Families flock here in summer, but come fall and winter its butterflies that rule the roost. You can stroll a walkway dotted with informative displays to a eucalyptus grove where 100,000 Monarchs set up shop during the colder months.
The free and fun West Side Pump Track (Corner of Western Dr and Mission St) sports a continuous loop of dirt mounds that allow kids to roll their bikes along without pedaling. The 5,000 square-foot track is appropriate for all ages and includes side bleachers for those pumped out. Just remember that helmet!
Seymour Marine Discovery Center (100 Shaffer Rd) offers a glimpse into the work of scientists at UCSC’s Long Marine Laboratory. An exhibit hall is filled with local marine life swimming in water pumped directly from the bay. Smaller sea explorers can pet a swell shark – the females lay eggs as opposed to live births! – and pose next to Ms. Blue, a massive blue whale skeleton that’s one of the largest skeleton displays in the world. The lab also sits on what is arguably the most scenic spot along the bay. An amble along their public access bluffs is worth the trip alone.
On your way to the marine lab, you’ll pass colorful signage pointing the way to Natural Bridges Farm (0 Shaffer Road at Delaware Ave), a picturesque plot of land abounding with organic veggies, fruits and flowers. You and your budding gardener can pick strawberries and clip flowers to assemble a bouquet daily from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. You can also just stroll their gardens — which includes a cute corral of baby ducks — anytime from sunrise to sundown.
If it’s got legs or motor-less wheels, you’ll find it on West Cliff Drive (Swanton Blvd through Bay St), a meandering coastline promenade lined with beds of flowering ice plant and views that will have you dialing a local realtor.
The Westside Saturday Farmers’ Market (Western Dr at Mission St) is everything SF’s hectic Ferry Building market is not: relaxed, intimate and affordable. Kids run free pausing only to slurp samples of local stone fruit. Adults relax at the shaded tables, toe-tapping along to the folksy band and noshing on tea cakes from Companion Bakeshop or freshly-fried gorditas from Garcia Mexican Kitchen. Time your visit to coincide with one of their summer Pop-Up Breakfast events.
It’s all about the drop scones at Cafe Ivéta (2125 Delaware Ave, Ste F), a hidden Westside gem. You and your little one can debate choices like Lavender White Chocolate, Lemon Ginger and Apricot (hint: there’s no wrong choice). Enjoy in the light-filled cafe or on the serene front patio. Or take home a bag of mix to whip up a batch of your own.
Curb the car and join the entire Westside community at Swift Street Courtyard, a thriving industrial-cool hub located in a former brussels sprouts plant. It’s home to numerous independent shops and eateries like Kelly’s French Bakery whose door sports a perennial line for breakfast, lunch and an unending glass case of pastries. You’ll also note the many winery tasting rooms and a bustling brewery with a kid and dog friendly beer garden. A half block down the street is Bantam (note the cool Batman anagram) which serves Delfina-style pizza in a hip and airy dining room.
Have you visited Santa Cruz lately? Tell us your favorite pit stops!
Copy by Garrick Ramirez; Photos by Garrick unless stated otherwise.